Job In The Spotlight: Media Planner

What does a media planner do? What’s the difference between a media planner and a media buyer? How has the role changed in the digital era? What education and skills do you need to take the media planning path?

The Effectiveness Experts


In a world where the media is ever expanding, so is the role of the media planner, writes Theda Braddock.

What was once mostly an in-house position has evolved into a whole industry, with agencies entirely devoted to finding the best possible use of media space for agencies and their clients. That means not only being an expert on media platforms, their content and audiences, but also being able to judge what’s the best fit for any given campaign.


What is the role of a media planner? 

Simply put, while the job of a creative is to come up with innovative campaigns, media planners decide where those campaigns will best achieve their objectives.


Mackenzie Patterson, associate director at Mindshare US, explains: “A media planner determines the best way to effectively reach a selected audience with a targeted message. We determine which media channels, partners, and formats make the most sense based on the media consumption of our client’s target audience and their competitive environment, among other factors.” 


Taylor Hampshire, senior planner, strategy at Zenith in the US says: “The role of a media planner is a true mix of art and science, where we need to be creative and think outside of the box to bring clients innovative ideas while leveraging knowledge and understanding of the competitive landscape and making sure we have the data and proof to back it up.”


Media planners work closely with media buyers – and sometimes the roles overlap.


Charlotte Hamers, communication planner at Mediacom in the Netherlands, says: “The media planner is closely aligned with the media buying process. However, the buying department is responsible for the actual media purchasing. Nevertheless, there is a close cooperation on this process between planner and buyer.”


The skills for the job

Naturally, being able to meet the needs of agencies, clients and attaining specific campaign objectives requires a good deal of organization. Charlotte explains: “You need to be able to have a good overview of your responsibilities. At all times, multiple campaigns will be running that are in different phases, with different objectives and different timings. This makes the role complex. In addition, it is important that you are structured, solution-oriented and resistant to stress. You also work closely with several internal and external stakeholders, which makes the job very dynamic. Additionally, the media landscape is constantly changing, so it helps when you are flexible to frequent change.”


Taylor Hampshire says your skills should include eagerness to learn, attention to detail, being a team player, and the ability to balance multiple projects. Mackenzie adds that curiosity, and critical thinking are also key elements. “At Mindshare specifically, media planners are particularly focused on making sure that we’re pushing our client strategies to be provocative with purpose.”


How has the role evolved?

Taylor says: “The job has evolved tremendously with a digital forward marketplace. Clients are now focused on targeting the right person at the right time over mass reach with traditional channels.”


Charlotte affirms this new focus. “Where we used to buy digital campaigns on a specific website, this is currently done using smart algorithms and advanced technology and we must deliver the right input to gain the best results.”


Mackenzie responded: “We’re still crafting a plan to reach the target audience wherever they’re consuming media. But the media landscape has changed so much in the last few years and our approach has had to evolve along with that. As media continues to fragment and the amount of clutter increases, having a more holistic approach isn’t optional…You constantly have to keep up with the changes and find ways different channels can play off one another to create a larger impact and resonate more with consumers. You also have to be much more targeted, because with so many things competing for a consumer’s attention, you want to make sure you’re reaching the right people and not getting lost in the chaos.” 


Routes to the job
There are many paths you can take to becoming a media planner. Charlotte relates her story: “I have a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. After that, I started working as a project coordinator at an advertising agency. However, I soon realized that I was interested in the media profession and I trained myself in marketing and communication. In addition, MediaCom offers many opportunities to develop yourself through various training options.”


Mackenzie studied communication and marketing in college, and got into media through a class that was set like a virtual ad agency. “I used the final presentation we created in that class during the interview to get my first job and have been working in the industry ever since.” 


Taylor’s story is more atypical. “In college I studied sociology and social psychology and minored in mass communications and religion. I also received my M.S. in Instructional Technology. I definitely don’t have a typical background for media. However I interned at a production company in LA working on image campaigns for CBS and FOX for two summers and while talking to the clients about the ins and outs of the advertising industry I realized media strategy was something I was extremely interested in and wanted to pursue.” 


Advice for newcomers

Taylor says: “While starting out ask as many questions as possible; as no question is a dumb question. Soak in as much information as you can, and take online trainings and seminars during down times.”


Mackenzie adds: “The media world is always changing, so constantly learning is incredibly important. Read and research as much as you can and when you see something new, try it for yourself – experience it as a consumer. The more you know about your clients, their target audiences, and the media landscape as a whole, the more valuable and impactful you can be in your role.”


Charlotte advises job-seekers to stay curious. “Keep an eye on the changing media landscape and follow brands you are interested in. But most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy and have fun, because it’s the most dynamic job that exists in which you can continuously develop yourself.”